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Standardization without Vanillafication

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Photo by ulterior epicure on Flickr

My colleagues and I are in the middle of revising our library’s information literacy learning outcomes for our college’s First Year Seminar (FYS)–a course required for all First Year Students that’s sort of an introduction to college life and academic discourse. Course topics vary depending on on the instructor and can be anything from “Modern Heroes” to “Pimp My Ride: Materialism and American Culture,” but the course must incorporate what our college has deemed to be the four liberal arts skills of written and oral expression, critical thinking and, you guessed it, information literacy.

Our original FYS info lit learning outcomes were based on the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, and like the standards, they’re detailed and thorough, but they are also long and riddled with librarian/info lit-speak. Over the past few years it’s become increasingly clear to the instruction librarians I work with that this document that has served us well for the past 5 years is in need of a revision. Rather than wait for ACRL’s revised IL standards to be published, we decided to sit down and ask ourselves one basic question:

What do we want our students to know by the end of their first semester at St. Mary’s College of Maryland?

It’s the driving question behind what we teach (or hope we get the opportunity to teach) in these FYS courses and one that helped us come up with a much shorter list of outcomes that we hope will help demystify the entire notion of “information literacy” for our faculty. They’re devoid of “librarian-ease” and are all things that have come up in conversation with faculty as “what I wish my students knew how to do” items. I won’t share them yet since they aren’t finalized, but if anyone’s interested in the final product, leave me a comment and I can share them with you via email.

One of my biggest hopes with this learning outcomes revision project is that once we have these new, shorter, more manageable outcomes, we can start to come up with a bank of learning activities, lesson plans, and maybe even (gasp!) assessment modules to address each one. The topics of our First Year Seminars may all be radically different, but the information literacy concepts we want our students to learn are all the same. I feel as though I spend so much time each fall building activities and lesson plans from scratch, that I end up suffering from instruction fatigue by October. I think with these revisions my colleagues and I can build a bank of learning activities/lessons that will hit all of our learning outcomes, but still be adaptable enough that modify them for the different topics covered in each FYS.

As an added bonus, this kind of modular (dare I say standardized?) approach to instruction could possibly make the faculty “sell” a much easier process. The learning outcomes are less intimidating, and if we present them with a menu of lessons to choose from, they might be better able to see how we can easily be worked in to their FYS throughout the semester. These might even be lessons that faculty choose to teach themselves! The important thing is that we’re teaching students what we all hope and want them to know by the end of their first semester of college.

At a liberal arts college like ours, no one likes the idea of standardizing anything. I’ve taught research sessions for different sections of the same course that have completely different assignments and approaches. I get it. We all like to do our own thing and don’t like others telling us how to do it. I fall squarely into that category. But I also hate inefficiency, and I think that creating lessons based on our new FYS outcomes will make us more efficient instruction librarians while still giving us the freedom to customize our teaching the way we see fit. I’m not advocating boring, standardized vanilla instruction, but sometimes a little quality control isn’t a bad thing.




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